Becoming a problem : imperial fix and Filipinos under United States rule in the early 1900s


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EARLY 1900s

Roland Sintos Coloma Northern Kentucky University

ABSTRACT This article will examine the United States’ first colony in Asia and the historical relationship between empire and education. Using the Philippines in the early 1900s as a case study, it will explore the following questions: How were Filipinos as colonized subjects depicted? And how did their portrayal impact the education provided to them? When the US gained possession of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War in 1898, the newly-acquired colonial subjects posed a significant problem to the rising global power. Debates between pro-annexationists and anti-imperialists, underpinned by concerns regarding protection from other foreign powers, economic self-interest, and sovereign governance, set the stage for the emergence of Filipinos in the US transnational imaginary and control through empire. The article will mobilize the concept of “imperial fix” in the confluence of empire and education in three ways: to formulate the problem, to fortify understanding of the problem; and to reform the colonized population. The Filipino problem – or, the question of what the United States ought to do with its colonized subjects in Asia – became a focal source of discussions in the metropole and the colony. Archival analysis of both conventional (e.g., government speeches and reports) and unconventional (e.g., popular culture artifacts) materials will reveal an intensive and systematic depiction of Filipinos as uncivilized but not altogether incorrigible children. Ultimately, the article will argue that racist and often infantilizing representations served as justifying rationality for US benevolent tutelage of Filipinos for modernity and civilization.

Key words: Filipinos, colonial subject, imperial fix, representation




On December 21, 1898, President William McKinley delivered the “benevolent assimilation” proclamation of the United States to its first colony in Asia, the Philippines. He emphasized that the US came to the Philippines “not as invaders or conquerors, but as friends, to protect the natives” (Miller, 1984, p. 25). The proclamation came eleven days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War symbolizing the waning of the Spanish empire and the inauguration of the United States as a global colonial power. In the Treaty of Paris, Spain ceded control of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba, and Puerto Rico to the United States. The acquisition of these territories expanded US imperial control beyond its contiguous landmass, which began with the genocide of indigenous peoples, the Louisiana Purchase from France, the war with Mexico, the procurement of Alaska from Russia, and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy (Go, 2008; Kramer, 2006; Stoler, 2006).

Located about 8,500 miles west of Washington, DC, the US capital and center of governmental power, the Philippines was an unknown entity in the minds and imaginations of the US majority at the turn of the twentieth century when the US started to exert its global might beyond its geopolitical borders. What circulated about Filipinos in popular media, newspapers, and magazines and from the letters of US soldiers, educators, and colonial officials in the Philippines became the hegemonic, albeit limited, representation of their newly acquired subjects in Asia. However, in spite of these media portrayals and personal correspondences, the general public in the United States was not familiar with Filipinos at all. So what became the hegemonic colonial regime of truth about Filipinos under United States rule? How did this regime operate? And what were its effects? What to do with their new colonized subjects abroad – articulated as the “Filipino problem” in government records, academic papers, and media documents – became a serious concern for two major camps in the United States. The first camp consisted of those who supported the annexation of the Philippines to the US either as an unincorporated territory (what eventually happened to Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa) or as an eventual state (what eventually happened to Hawaii and Alaska). The second camp was composed of those who were opposed to


further US imperialist encroachments. In other words, in the United States, the debates regarding the “Filipino problem” were framed as oppositional positions between the pro-annexationists and the anti-imperialists.

It must be noted, however, that the principles guiding the positions among the pro-annexationists and among the anti-imperialists were not altogether homogeneous (Go, 2008; Kramer, 2006; Miller, 1984). On the one hand, those interested in the annexation of the Philippines were driven by the converging and at times competing principles of competition, protection, economic gain, and global power and influence. To briefly elaborate on these principles, respectively: the US was late in the game of carving out the world for its own conquests and interests, compared to European empires. It wanted to guard and defend the Philippines from European and Asian powers that could claim and colonize it; the US could benefit from the country’s rich natural resources and laboring bodies. Lastly, the Philippines are geographically positioned as a strategic gateway into Asia. On the other hand, those taking an anti-imperialist position were committed to humanitarian reasons or self-protection demands. They were either sympathetic to the plight of colonized peoples seeking freedom and independence, or anxious and felt threatened by the possible influx of cheap labor that could compete for jobs in the United States.

I state the differences between and within the pro-annexationist and anti-imperialist camps in broad strokes to foreground the competing discourses around the Filipino problem and to indicate that what eventually won in the debates was a compromise: the Philippines were not officially annexed by the United States. Administratively the US rule in the archipelago changed in the early 1900s from military to civilian governance in the following forms: first as an insular or territorial government, and then as a commonwealth in the transition for eventual attainment of full independence (Kramer, 2006). Key to these changes was the Filipino demonstration of progress and maturity, civilization and modernity, under the terms of the US colonial regime.

In this article, I will extend and elaborate on postcolonial scholar David Scott’s (1995) concept of “colonial governmentality”


in order to explicate the formation of a colonial regime of truth in the discursive construction of Filipinos as a problem in the early 1900s. In colonial governmentality, Scott focuses on the “political rationalities of colonial power” that are designed to “produce effects of rule.” In particular, he calls attention to “targets of colonial power (that is, the point or points of power’s application, the object or objects it aims at, and the means and instrumentalities it deploys in search of these targets, points, and objects), and the field of its operation (that is, the zone that it actively constructs for its functionality) (Scott, 1995, p. 193, his emphasis).

In his formulation, Scott draws from Partha Chatterjee’s notion of “rule of colonial difference” in which race plays “the defining signifier” in the representation of the colonized “as inferior, as radically Other.” Quoting Chatterjee: “the more the logic of a modern regime of power pushed the processes of government in the direction of a rationalization of administration and the normalization of the objects of its rule, the more insistently did the issue of race come up” (ibid., p. 196). Scott also draws from Michel Foucault’s notion of “governmentality” as a political rationality in the regulation of “‘population’ as an object of political calculation” (ibid., p. 202). Analysis of colonial governmentality centers on the “project of colonial power – the new target it aimed at bringing within its reach, the new knowledges it depended upon, the new technologies it sought to deploy, the new domains it needed to construct the field of operations” (ibid., p. 208).

This article will examine the Philippines, the United States’ first colony in Asia, to explore the following questions: How were Filipinos as colonized subjects depicted? And how did their portrayal impact the education provided to them? Elaborating on David Scott’s (1995) insights, it will mobilize the concept of “imperial fix” in the confluence of empire and education. The US enacted an imperial fix in the early 1900s in three ways: first, to formulate the problem; second, to fortify understanding of the problem; and third, to reform the problem, meaning the colonized population.

The Filipino problem – or, the question of what the United States ought to do with its colonized subjects in Asia – became a focal source of discussions in the metropole and the colony.


Archival analysis of both conventional (e.g., government reports) and unconventional (e.g., popular culture artifacts) materials will reveal an intensive and systematic depiction of Filipinos as uncivilized but not altogether incorrigible children. Ultimately, the article will argue that racist and often infantilizing representations served as justification for US benevolent tutelage of Filipinos for modernity and civilization. It is meant to offer not a countercolonial or decolonial view, but rather an elaborate exposition into the discursive rationalities and effects of colonial governmentality and education through the notion of imperial fix.

Formulating the Problem

The cover of the weekly magazine Judge on July 11, 1898 features a seemingly bewildered and confused Uncle Sam carrying a crying, dark-skinned baby with the caption “Information Wanted” underneath the image. The Western-garbed Uncle Sam with his jacket, shirt, vest, striped pants, and star-spangled top hat sharply contrasts with the almost naked baby who was only wearing a loincloth wrapped around her waist, tribal looking necklace and leg streamers, and bangles around her wrists and ankles.

The baby is also tagged with “Philippines with compliments of Dewey” in reference to US commodore George Dewey’s victory over the Spanish navy at the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, as depicted by the warships behind them. At the bottom of the cover is a question from Uncle Sam: “Now that I’ve got it, what am I going to do with it?” This magazine cover showcases the US formulation of the Filipino problem even before the signing of the Treaty of Paris five months later, fueling the uncertainty in the contentious debate between the pro-annexationist and anti-imperialist camps.

In the discursive formulation of the Filipino problem, my analysis of the archive of Filipino representations in US popular culture reveals a consistent depiction of Filipinos as racialized and often infantilized subjects. I focus on images from popular culture, especially political cartoons, to track the hegemonic portrayal of Filipinos in the US imagination.


Figure 1: Information Wanted

In Iconography of the New Empire, Servando Halili (2006) contends that “American popular culture, specifically political cartoons and caricatures, were instrumental to the diffusion, articulation, implementation, and justification of America’s expansion, specifically its decision to colonize the Philippines” (Halili, 2006, p. xi). Stuart Hall suggests that research on


popular culture enables us to understand “the ways in which [marginalized subjects] are constantly held in relation with institutions of dominant cultural production” (Hall, 1998, p. 446). This type of research

looks at the relations which constantly structure this field into dominant and subordinate formations… It has at its center the changing and uneven relations of force which define the field of culture. Its main focus of attention is the relation between culture and the questions of hegemony. (ibid., p. 449).

In the development of the US colonial regime of truth about the newly acquired subjects in the Pacific, the visual grammar of race was mobilized to direct attention to what Partha Chatterjee (1993) calls the “rule of colonial difference” between Filipinos and white Americans. As individuals and as a collective, Filipinos were repeatedly targeted as dark-skinned savages who were primitive in their appearance and behavior and considered developmentally child-like within Western barometers of maturity and civilization. In another political cartoon published by Judge magazine in August 1898, a dark-skinned boy is holding a US flag with the word “Philippines” written on the flag.

The Filipino boy is naked save for the loincloth around his waist, and is wearing a tribal-looking necklace and wrist and ankle bangles, similar to the crying baby in the previous cover. Below the cartoon is a poem that riffs on the popular nursery rhyme “There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” and reads instead as: “There is an old ‘Yank’ who lives in a shoe / Covered all over with red, white and blue. / His family is large and still growing bigger– / The result of good work in snapping the trigger.” Founded in 1881 as a weekly periodical, Judge was allied with the Republican Party, and supported president William McKinley who was an ardent imperialist (Savory & Marks, 1985, p. 15).


Figure 2: Old Yank Who Lived in a Shoe

Newspapers across the country also provided visual support directing attention to colonized Filipinos as racialized and infantilized savages. In an 1889 cartoon entitled “Holding His End Up” published by the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, a proud Uncle Sam in a tight star-spangled and striped circus costume is balancing a dark child while standing on a podium marked with “Army and Navy.” With twisted hair, pronounced lips, and a puzzled look, the child is holding a US flag with the word “Philippines” on it. The child looks up to Uncle Sam and smartly dressed men. One of these is John Bull personifying the United Kingdom who says, “It’s really most extraordinary what training will do. Why, only the other day I thought that man unable to support himself,” referring to the United States. In another 1899 cartoon, published by the Minneapolis Journal newspaper, the Filipino is depicted as a dark-skinned primitive wearing a feather headdress, a grass skirt, and bangles around his arms and ankles, and waving a US flag. The caption under the image states: “Hurrah for the fourth of July! We’re coming in on independence day celebrations, too.”

In targeting Filipinos as primitive savages, the visual grammar of race in these colonial representations also operated


within a comparative and transnational field (Coloma, 2009). Consider the August 1899 Judge political cartoon: the poem refers to Uncle Sam’s family as “large and still growing bigger.” Surrounding Uncle Sam who is smoking a pipe and sitting inside a large red, white, and blue shoe are children from various parts of the US nation-state and its newly acquired colonies.

To his left, the US “East” is portrayed by a bespectacled white boy in top hat; the US “West” by a blond cowgirl riding a wooden horse and whirling a lasso with an attached upside-down Mexican in mid-air; and the US “South” by a black boy tilling the land with a farm hoe. In front of him are an Indian wearing a full headdress and smoking a traditional ceremonial pipe, an Alaskan with a spear aiming to catch fish, and a Puerto Rican reading a book entitled “A.B.C. of American Liberty.” To his left are a Cuban with a sword and an emaciated Guamanian eating from a large soup bowl from Red Cross, while a Hawaiian carrying a US flag looks on. Behind Uncle Sam are a standing Texan in a large sombrero and poncho, and a sitting Filipino surveying what’s going on in front of him.

By taking a comparative and transnational approach to understanding the US enactment of imperial fix in directing attention to racialized formulations of colonial subjects, I follow Ann Laura Stoler’s interpretive and methodological move to connect North American history and (post)colonial studies. In tracking the “intimate frontiers of empire,” Stoler examines the

social and cultural space where racial classifications were defined and defied, where relations between colonizer and colonized could powerfully confound or confirm the strictures of governance and the categories of rule. (Stoler, 2001, p. 830-831).

She calls for a “more sustained focus on the relationship between what Foucault referred to as the ‘regimes of truth’ of imperial systems (the ways of knowing and establishing truth claims about race and difference on which macro politics rely) and those microsites of governance” that can “reveal how North American histories and those empires elsewhere compare and converge” (ibid., p. 831). To be further elaborated in subsequent sections of this article, I am interested in


looking comparatively at circuits of knowledge production, governing practices, and indirect as well as direct connections in the political rationalities that informed imperial rule. (ibid.).

Fortifying the understanding of the Problem

Imperial fix as a technique of colonial governmentality to formulate and enact the hegemonic regime of truth on colonized subjects begins by directing attention to certain attributes or traits that position colonized subjects as inferior. In line with Chatterjee’s “rule of colonial difference,” my archival research on US popular culture on the representation of Filipinos at the turn of the twentieth century reveals their portrayal as racialized and often infantilized characters. The widespread use of visual imagery circulating in print media provided a pedagogical apparatus to inform and influence the US general public about their newly acquired subjects in the Pacific.

The visual grammar of imperial fix strongly relied on a comparative and transnational lexicon that situated Filipinos in relation to other racialized and colonized subjects within and beyond the US geopolitical borders (Coloma, 2009; Coloma, 2013). This grammar employed optical associations that conveyed similarities and differences across groups under United States’ imperialist rule and control. The subsequent step in imperial fix moves from directing attention to fastening and making permanent the portrayal of colonized subjects.

In 1903, the National Geographic magazine published a photograph entitled “Adult Negrito Woman Compared to an American of Average Size.” Accompanying the image is a text that reads: “The Negritos are physical and mental weaklings, and are rapidly disappearing. They are found in the interior of all the larger islands of the Philippines, and are generally supposed to have been the first inhabitants of the islands, having come from New Guinea. They hid in the mountain forests, where they were driven by later invaders. There are about 30,000 of them left. They live on the fruits and tubers which they find in the forest, and like the pigmies of Africa kill their game with poisoned arrows” (National Geographic, 1903, p. 209). The visual image and text is a study of comparative difference along the lines of not only race, gender, and size, but also of civilization and modernity. Within the dominant narrative, the tall, fully clad


US man represented the ultimate telos in the Western place of progress that came to civilize the primitive native who appeared half his size and naked save for the cloth wrapped around her waist (Coloma, 2012).


What is also striking about this photograph is it came from the personal collection of Dean Conant Worcester, the US man standing next to the indigenous woman. Worcester first came to the Philippines as part of a zoological expedition from University of Michigan in 1887 and completed his bachelor’s degree in zoology two years later. As one of the few scholarly “experts” on the archipelago, he was appointed by US president William McKinley to serve in the first Philippine Commission that was tasked to make recommendations on how the US ought to address the Filipino problem. He was then appointed to subsequent US commissions until 1913.

These commissions wielded national administrative power over governmental operations in the islands. He also published extensively, including three books spanning the course of his time in the country: The Philippine Islands and their People (1901); The Non-Christian Tribes of Northern Luzon (1906); and two volumes of The Philippines Past and Present (1913). An avid photographer, he used many images in his published books, reports and articles. In a lecture given to the Hamilton Club in Chicago, Worcester raised concerns about “unreliable” information regarding the US colony in the “local press” which “make facts hard to obtain.” He asserted his more informed “knowledge of conditions in the Philippines by observation, and of ascertaining the feelings and aspirations of the people by daily conversations with them” (Worcester, 1900, p. 2). After a lengthy exposition on the US military and governmental involvement in the Philippines, he closed his talk by stating

I believe that under our guidance they will make rapid progress in civilization… There is work for us to do. The future of ten million of human beings, no less than the honor of our nation, are in our keeping. The eyes of the world are upon us. (ibid., p 24-25).

Worcester’s position was shared by Albert J. Beveridge, a US senator from Indiana, who gave the keynote address at the 1907 annual meeting of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS). One of the country’s oldest learned societies, AAPSS has brought together public officials, policy experts, and scholars across disciplines to address significant political, economic, and social concerns since its founding in 1889. With the theme of “American Colonial Policy and


Administration,” its 1907 meeting drew a crowd of over 1,500 attendees. Beveridge started his speech with:

Administration is the principle upon which our colonial policy should proceed for a century to come. (Beveridge, 1907, p. 3).

Viewing imperialism as a noble and honorable responsibility undertaken by “advanced peoples” to civilize “backward peoples”, he fervently championed US control over the Philippines and other territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean. Beveridge was adamant that “none of our possessions will ever be given up until our power has begun to wane, and the days of our decline have fallen upon us. ‘What we have we hold,’ is the motto of our blood” (ibid., p. 5). He considered the “management of our dependencies” like the Philippines as “common sense” until

our wards are trained in continuous industry, in orderly liberty and in that reserve and steadiness of character through which alone self-government is possible. (ibid., p. 3).

Authoritative statements from US officials in the colony and the metropole, like Worcester and Beveridge, reinforced and solidified popular culture representations, thereby fixing, or fastening and making permanent, racist understanding of Filipinos in the early 1900s. Fixing certain knowledge of colonized subjects also required dismissing or minimizing what they are not.

In other words, the inclusion of one type of knowledge that would ascend as the dominant view of the colonized other necessitated the exclusion of other types of knowledge. For Michel Foucault, the central question in the use of archaeology in discourses is “How is it that one particular statement appeared rather than another?” (Foucault, 1972, p. 27). Since discourses function as “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (ibid., p. 49), it is crucial to determine what is included and excluded in the construction of the Filipino colonized subject.

Largely missing in the US social imaginary were: the long-standing Catholic religiosity and institutions that derived from


over 300 years of Spanish colonialism when US Protestant missionaries sought to convert these so-called heathens into Christianity; the rich history and traditions of the Muslim South which remained resistant to both Spanish and US invasions; and the proud social standing and positions of non-indigenous Filipino elites who dominated the political, economic, and sociocultural circles and often collaborated with invading powers. In sum, one cannot civilize those who seem to be already civilized.

While media accounts, political cartoons, photographs, public speeches, and government reports were consolidating racist and paternalistic views of Filipinos, nothing viscerally impacted US people more than seeing for themselves the primitive nature of their newly acquired colonial subjects. In 1904, the United States organized the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, in commemoration of the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. Through this purchase from France, the US acquired over 800,000 square miles of land, which encompassed what now constitute 15 US states and two Canadian provinces. At the St. Louis Fair, all US states built their own pavilions, and more than 20 countries participated. The Philippine allotment was the largest of all, symbolically showcasing the latest acquisition of the US in Asia.

It featured 40 different tribes, six villages, 70,000 exhibits, 130 buildings, and 725 soldiers and constabularies. Billed as “better than a trip through the Philippine Islands,” the Philippine Exposition was a stunning visual extravaganza. Yet it also popularized distorted images of the Philippines and its people. The transnational dissemination of particular Filipino images, bodies, cultures, and lives showcased savages with bizarre cultural norms and traditions.

For the project of imperial fix to work in colonial governmentality, as justification for US occupation and control of the archipelago, the visual narrative had to articulate the “discovery” of primitive yet potentially corrigible sub-humans and their “transformation” as mature, fully-human productive citizens. In this set of photographs, published in one of Dean Conant Worcester’s books, is the metamorphosis of an indigenous young man in three stages: starting in 1901 prior to entering police or military service; then after one year of service;


and finally, two years later, clean shaven, shorter hair, and in complete uniform, ready to serve the country.

Such optical display provided the justificatory rationality and process that set into motion policies, programs, and practices for the imperial fix aimed to reform colonized subjects into potentially fully human beings. As attested by the caption “Educational Value of Constabulary” at the bottom of the photographs, education played a significant role in imperial fix.

Figure 4: Educational Value of Constabulary

Reforming the Problem

The June 1899 cover of the Judge magazine is entitled “The Filipino’s First Bath,” and features US president McKinley holding a primitive-looking Filipino and saying “Oh, you dirty boy!” In his hand is a scrub brush marked “Education” while they wade in the cleansing water of “Civilization.” On the riverbank are two other boys signifying Cuba and Puerto Rico, presumably already bathed and now putting on star-spangled and striped clothes. In the background is the capitol dome, which houses the US Congress, indicating the need for Filipinos to be educated and civilized before being granted self-rule. So what type of education, in the eyes of US colonial rulers, would be essential to reform Filipinos in the project of imperial fix?


Figure 5: The Filipino’s First Bath

A 1899 political cartoon entitled “School Begins” in the Puck magazine offers a transnational and comparative view of race and education that could provide an answer to that question. The cartoon illustrates a confused Filipino dressed in the Western style of long-sleeved shirt and pants and seated in the front row with three other students representing Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. All four students are looking up at the towering, bespectacled Uncle Sam who is leaning over the desk with a stick in hand. Underneath the image are the words of Uncle Sam’s stern lecture to these newly arrived students: “Now, children, you’ve got to learn these lessons whether you


want to or not! But just take a look at the class ahead of you, and remember that in a little while, you will be as glad to be here as they are!”

My analysis of this visual image suggests that Filipinos had four options in the governmental technique of imperial fix as repair or reform. The first option was to be assimilated into the US norms of whiteness, represented by White teens reading silently behind the front row. The books held by these students, who seem to be maturing under Uncle Sam’s tutelage, denote California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Alaska, the territories that the expanding United States had previously acquired by military war or purchase. The second option was for Filipinos to follow the Native American who is reading an upside-down book and sitting alone by the front door. The Native American image signifies the boarding school policy, considered an “education for extinction” (Adams, 1995), which removed and isolated indigenous students from both mainstream white America and their own indigenous communities. The third option was to be barred entry like the Chinese, standing outside of the school door, due to the Exclusion Act of 1882. The final option was for Filipinos to become like the African American who, due to manual-industrial training, is perched on a ladder and is washing the classroom window with a rag and a bucket of water. Since the options of whiteness, extinction, or exclusion were not completely tenable for Filipinos in the Philippines, the US-controlled public education system employed the policy and curriculum for African Americans in the US South as its educational template for Filipinos across the Pacific.

The national Director of Education in the Philippines, David Barrows strongly distinguished the US system of public education in the archipelago from the previous system set up by the Spanish regime. In his presentation at the American Academy of Political and Social Science in 1907, he said,

when the Spanish government organized public schools, the instruction, though widely distributed, was adequate only for a small number, and thus the upper class alone benefited while the great mass of the population remained in benighted ignorance as before. (Barrows, 1907, p. 73).


When the US inherited the Spanish school system in the Philippines with a limited number of available school houses and trained teachers, Barrows claimed that “there is no historic connection between the schools under the Spanish system and those under the American government.” The US-controlled schools were “a new product” and “undoubtedly the most distinctively American institution which has been transplanted to Philippine soil” (ibid.). He argued that English had to become the language of school instruction for several reasons: there were too many local languages and dialects to choose from, which could incite regional jealousy and factionalism; speaking Spanish was limited to a small, wealthy class; and English was spoken in other parts of Asia, such as India, Japan, and Australia.

In his presentation, Barrows discussed the establishment of a mass public school system – from the creation of more school houses, and the need for more financial support, to the recruitment of US educators as trainers and supervisors and the preparation of thousands of Filipino teachers to implement the curriculum. To be offered in the racialized and colonized curriculum in the US-controlled public schools in the Philippines were rudimentary English language instruction and basic mathematics. But at the core was manual-industrial education provided to boys and girls. The curriculum for boys included instruction in agriculture, fisheries, and shop work (wood, iron, etc.), while that for girls stressed domestic science, such as housekeeping, cleaning, sanitation, cooking, and caring of the elderly, infants, and the sick. Barrows reported that “the immense usefulness of such teaching, the social gains derived from it, were instantly perceived by the Filipino people” (Barrows, 1907, p. 79). Furthermore, he linked manual-industrial work to the Filipinos’ natural aptitude: “The Filipino is a natural craftsman, has an artistic sense and true eye and hand and delicate touch; the use of the tool is to him a pleasure and an art” (ibid.).

In his address to the same conference, Senator Beveridge believed that

The keynote of our practical policy from now on should be the development of industrial conditions. It is a fact upon which every student of colonial government is


agreed that a people’s economic welfare and industrial and financial independence is the bedrock upon which all progress toward self-government must be guided (…). The Filipinos, like all backward people, need to be taught orderly, continuous labor before everything else. (Beveridge, 1907, p. 12).

Since over 95% of the Filipino students in the early 1900s only reached the primary grades, the overwhelming majority were principally exposed to a schooling for industrial and manual vocations. The very few who reached the secondary schools and eventually obtained university degrees became members of the academic and, if not already, the social, economic, and political elite. In a highly stratified country like the Philippines, with seemingly insurmountable cleavages separating the upper class and the aspiring bourgeois from the poor and working class, the liberal arts academic curriculum for the privileged few and the manual-industrial curriculum for the majority further exacerbated the gap between these segments of the population, leading to different trajectories and futures. Within the first decade of US occupation and control of the Philippines, the development of a US-controlled system of public education was well underway. It fulfilled the initial directive by the first Philippine Commission that was tasked to investigate conditions and submit recommendations to the US President and the US Secretary of War.

In their report, submitted on November 30, 1900, the commissioners stated that “a well-directed system of education will prove one of the most forceful agencies for elevating the Filipinos, materially, socially, and morally, and preparing them for a large participation in the affairs of government” (US Philippine Commission, 1900, p. 107). As one of their recommendations, they suggested that the “education furnished must be of a practical, utilitarian character. What is attempted in the way of instruction must be done thoroughly, and the aim must be in particular to see that children acquire in school skill in using their hands in a way to earn a livelihood” (ibid., p. 113). In the end, as the overriding rationality for colonial education in the Philippines, the US-controlled public school system needed to be “modernized and secularised and adapted to the needs of a people who have hitherto been deprived of the opportunities of a rational education” (ibid.).



In this article, I introduced and elaborated on the concept of imperial fix as a technique of colonial governmentality in order to document and analyze how colonized subjects were selectively represented in order to forward and justify occupation and control. I highlighted three inter-related processes in imperial fix. First, in formulating the problem, attention was directed toward characteristics and traits of colonized subjects that rendered them inferior in relation to the dominant power.

In the case of Filipinos in the early 1900s, US popular culture primarily depicted them in racist and paternalistic ways as primitive infantilized savages. Second, in fortifying and fastening limited understandings of colonized subjects, more authoritative figures and statements reinforced and legitimated such views that excluded other depictions and perspectives that could complicate or negate the intended one. US politicians and colonial officials provided public speeches and written reports that conveyed the civilizing mission of benevolent assimilation in order to supposedly uplift, modernize, and civilize Filipinos. Third, in reforming the colonized population, Filipinos were constructed as backward but not completely incorrigible. Education, particularly the implementation of manual-industrial schooling, functioned as key to the development of Filipinos as productive and fully human.

The question of the human has received increasing scholarly interest since the 1980s. Under the capacious and contested umbrella called “posthumanism” (e.g., Anderson, 2007; Ferrando, 2013; Jackson, 2013), different movements and schools of thought explore and critique (re)definitions of the human, certainly incited and constituted by onto-epistemological, scientific, and bio-technological developments of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Various forms of posthumanism, including philosophical, cultural, and critical analytical categories, such as transhumanism, antihumanism, and metahumanism as well as new materialists, offer multiple, competing, and even contradictory frames to understand and extend various configurations of binaries. These binaries include humans and non-humans, biology and culture, language and material, life and death.


At the core, it seems that these varying posthumanism strands call for the de-centering of the human as the primary focus in intellectual, political, and socio-cultural discussions. In other words, the human should not be construed as an autonomous agent, but rather is situated within an extensive system of relations, including the environment and technology. Since posthumanism is heavily grounded temporally in the present, spatially in the global North, and in the imagining of future alternatives, it has failed to fully account for questions of the human in the past and in the global South.

It is from the vantage point of a historical inquiry into empire and education that my work engages with the incessant question of the human. Colonized Filipinos were construed as primitive and uncivilized subjects, as sub-human and not-fully human, at times as child-like under the dominant model of human development, being depicted as passive, dependent, and immature. Hence, the civilizing mission of colonial governmentality and education offered the possibility of becoming human or a fully matured human, who was capable of reason, logic, judgment, discernment, and control. As this article demonstrates, the turn from a primitive child to a mature civilized individual indexes the transformative process and product of becoming human under Anglo-American tutelage, regulation, and supervision.

US imperialists, such as Senator Albert Beveridge, dangled the possibility of self-determination and sovereign governance to the Philippines if Filipinos demonstrated continuous industry, orderly liberty, and reserve and steadiness of character, as measured by Western barometers of proper citizenship and maturity. Since Filipinos were generally regarded as primitive, immature savages, education served the central technology for the US experiment to reform Filipinos into modern, civilized subjects. It became the final step in the US project of imperial fix, which initially formulated and fortified the colonial problem as a matter of intellectual, cultural, and physical underdevelopment within a Western plane of progress.

Hence, to cultivate their transformation, US officials and educators designed educational policies and curricula for Filipinos that were patterned after other colonized and racialized


populations in the metropole. Yet the eventual freedom of Filipinos from the US empire did not come from their display of diligent labor, civilized comportment, Western knowledge, or English language proficiency. Like many colonized and racialized peoples, their liberation derived from juxtaposing these Western tools with local and indigenous logics and practices in order to articulate and enact a pro-independence position that could eventually lead to their own freedom and destiny.


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Figure 1: Information Wanted from MacArthur Memorial (Norfolk, Virginia,

USA) – retrieved, Nov. 1, 2016 from http://www.

Figure 2: Old Yank Who Lived in a Shoe from Smithsonian Learning Lab (Washington, DC, USA) – retrieved, Nov. 1, 2016 from resources/view/52170

Figure 3: Negrito Woman and Dean C. Worcester from WikiPilipinas - retrieved, Nov. 1, 2016 from http://

Figure 4: Educational Value of the Constabulary from MIT Visualizing Cultures (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) – retrieved, Nov. 1, 2016 from

photography_and_power_02/dw02_essay04.html Figure 5: The Filipino’s First Bath from Cleveland Heights – University Heights City School District (University Heights, Ohio, USA) – retrieved, Nov. 1, 2016 from allaboutu/worldhistory/whiteburden.html





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